Hearing the response from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the Bombay High Court Thursday questioned the civic authority if they were trying to imply that Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations encroached roads and footpaths in 1893, during Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s time.
“Are you trying to say that during Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s time the celebration took place on foothpaths and roads?” asked the court. A division bench of Justice A S Oka and Revati Mohite Dere were hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Dr Mahesh Bedekar, who runs a hospital in Thane.
The PIL deals with the issue of noise pollution during festivals and the issue of pandals erected by the organisers.
The BMC on Thursday had filed an application seeking modification of the court’s earlier direction on demolishing temporary booths, platforms erected on public roads and footpaths which didn’t have requisite permission. The court had pulled them up after BMC in their application had stated that Ganesh Chaturthi “is being celebrated traditionally from the time of Bal Gangadhar Tilak”.
“Don’t equate what is happening today with what happened during the time of Bal Gangadhar Tilak,” observed the HC.
The senior counsel appearing for BMC, Anil Sakhare, said that he was not there during that time and could not respond on the situation.
In March, a division bench of Justices A S Oka and A S Gadkari had pointed out that illegal platforms raised during festivals like Ganesh Utsav, Navratri and Dahi Handi could not be erected in localities having a large population and heavy traffic, or near public transport stands, hospitals and education institutions. It had further said that such pandals should not obstruct the free move of traffic and pedestrians.
Arguing that since Ganesh Chathurti was going to begin from September 17, the application said, “Due to shortage of time, it is necessary to give permission for erection of the mandaps to the organisations on the basis of last year’s permission restricting the area and height.”
It further stated that “If the permission is not granted immediately on the basis of the present policy there will be great hardships and inconvenience to the mandals as well as organisations which will result into great hardship to the community at large and sentiment of the people will be jeoprodised (sic).”
Sarkhare said that the scope of his petition would be limited for Ganesh Chaturthi presently. The court questioned if the BMC were making a case for the organisers of such events.
“We can’t say that don’t celebrate functions,” said Sakhare stating that they were only giving permission to pandals and sheds which had traffic clearance.
BMC said that they had received permission for erecting 140 pandals, out of which they had already granted permission to 57 applications from idol makers and other organisations. The application by BMC stated that in 2014, it had given permission to 133 Murtikars and 1,188 Ganesh pandals on municipal roads and footpaths maintained by corporation and had also granted 304 application permissions for setting up pandals near railway stations, public bus stands, hospitals etc.
An application was also filed by Goregaon Nagrik Samiti. The lawyer appearing for the Samiti said that they “celebrated 15 festivals” and when asked by court if they wanted to obstruct traffic, the lawyer said that some suburban areas had narrow roads, pandals should be allowed to come up in such areas.
The amicus curiae and senior advocate (friend of court) Sanjay Gorwadkar said, “There is a law in place but they are prejudiced and are seeking permission not to follow them.” He pointed to an earlier order of the court in 2009, which had a much wider scope and had prevented pandals from being erected on roads and footpaths altogether.
In an earlier hearing, BJP Mumbai filed an application in court seeking to be made party in the matter relating to issue of noise pollution during festivals stating that the orders passed by the court had “affected their right to profess religion.”
Meanwhile, the court asked if a mechanism for receiving complaints pertaining to breach of noise pollution rules had been established by all municipal corporations , in accordance to earlier orders, to which the court was informed by Advocate General Anil Singh, hundred percent compliance was not there.
“The state has not complied with our earlier orders but assures us that the court orders will be complied with,” said the court. The state government has to place its compliance report before the court by July 30. The court said that they were giving a last chance to the government to ensure compliance of their orders otherwise they would have to initiate contempt proceedings against officials.